We were walking down the road, heading to our work site, when one of the boys with us broke his flip-flop. A great sadness fell over his face as he said that was the last pair of shoes he owned. Many of us gathered around him and assured him that we would go purchase him a new pair. We reached the work site where we were going to pray over the home we had completed. As we stood in the circle, I looked across at our mission host, Carlos, and noticed he only had on a pair of socks. Next to him stood the boy who had broken his only pair of flip-flops, holding Carlos’ tennis shoes. Carlos gave him the shoes he was wearing.
The arrival of Jesus into our world takes place in a setting far from what one would expect for the King of kings. Luke’s gospel tells us Jesus was placed in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals. This was more than likely located in a stable or cave that served as a place to keep animals safe. It is a now-famous setting, but I can’t imagine Mary was overjoyed at the possibility of this being her baby’s first place to sleep.
We’ve been talking a lot about Martin Luther this year. That is because 2017 marks the 500th Anniversary of one of the most important events of the Protestant Reformation. It was on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted the “95 Theses” on the church door of Wittenberg Castle. These were statements that he wanted to discuss with church leaders in order to bring about necessary change in the church. The reform that followed would not only change the church, but also the world. While this reform was on a large scale, sometimes we forget that some of the most important reform happens in our hearts. More than 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in Bethlehem who came to reform our hearts and our lives.
I came across a story this week about a school in Pennsylvania, HW Good Elementary School. Almost half of the students at this elementary school, like many in the U.S., qualify for free and reduced lunch based on their family’s income. Many of these students still cannot afford their lunch fees, and they accrue more and more lunch money debt throughout the year. For many families, this debt can be a significant burden.
It’s a wonderful life! Is it really? How many natural disasters occurred, with hundreds of lives lost this past year? How many random shootings and other acts of violence did we hear about? The news is full of story after story of people making bad choices that impact others. So, is it really a wonderful life?
Marsha and I always love the Christmas season. We love the carols, the decorations, and the family time together. But there are times when the season seems to fill up with busyness. One of the mistakes I have seen happen is when people try to find balance by dividing their lives into two areas. We try to separate the secular and holy aspects of Christmas: Santa, candy canes, and Jingle Bells are one category; Nativity sets, Christmas Eve worship, and Silent Night are another. It is almost as if Christmas time can be fun or it can be religious, but we don’t think those things should overlap. I believe it is that type of thinking that causes us to get overstressed during the Christmas season. We think we need to have our secular lives just perfect – and that means we need to keep the house clean, decorated, the shopping completed, the gifts wrapped, food prepared, and outfits for each and every special occasion during the season. It can quickly become overwhelming. We have unrealistic expectations about what we can accomplish and pretty soon it takes up more time in our lives until we start cutting back on the religious realm.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
I give thee thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing thy praise;
I bow down toward thy holy temple
and give thanks to thy name for thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness;
for thou hast exalted above everything
thy name and thy word.
On the day I called, thou didst answer me,
my strength of soul thou didst increase.
The Apostle Paul started the church in Philippi on his second missionary journey. Philippi was a city in Greece situated on a major road that connected Rome to much of its territory to the east. It was a great city for Paul to establish a church where the good news of God could travel freely throughout the empire.